Field operations for the Karoo baselines include a number of diverse activities: measurements in hundreds of boreholes, micro-earthquake/ambient noise recordings, deep electrical conductivity measurements, ecosystem sampling (vegetation and freshwater invertebrates), engagement of communities through citizen science, drill-core logging, geological mapping, and airborne surveys, as well as potential socio-economic impacts, public access to information, land based and land use changes, and community health impacts related to proposed shale gas development in the Karoo.

Magnetotelluric experiment, groundwater sampling, and shallow water ecosystems observation

The essence of the ongoing AEON program is to improve technical skills in South Africa, as part of this objective the Karoo Baseline has laid the basis for a comprehensive database on baseline conditions in the Eastern Cape Karoo prior to the commencement of potential shale gas development in the Karoo basin. However, in conceptualising possible next steps in the baseline, as processes in the basin might unfold into the future, it is important that emerging science plans by Government and the scientific community not lose sight of the need for ongoing Critical Zone observations into the deep subsurface of the basin. Whilst Critical Zone Observatories are not new to the sciences, our conceptualising of this approach is bound to the need for independent scientific monitoring of information provided by both the industry and state agencies through the various stages of development, should the process of shale gas development continue to unfold in the basin. Underpinning such an observatory should be the need to deepen and focus Citizen Science across the Karoo, not merely to advance community participation in data collection and knowledge building, but to strengthen local democratic structures across the region to both lead, and participate in the necessary monitoring of impacts. Lasty, in terms of skills development, there are no training facilities for deep drilling resource exploration and monitoring. The proposed ST&ET Centre will address shortage of skills development for a new generation of young African scientists and engineers interested in sustainable exploration of natural resources through better understanding of the deep subsurface and its critical zone. The diagram below serves to illustrate at a very rudimentary level this conceptual approach in the Karoo.